CARIBOU, Maine — Stories about losing cherished items rarely have a happy ending; this one does.
In their mission to help struggling folks in The County stay warm through the winter, members of the American Legion Auxiliary in Caribou handed out nearly 800 coats during their Coats for Kids and Families project on Oct. 26 and 27 — but they accidentally gave away one too many.
Unbeknownst to the recipient, auxiliary members accidentally gave away the jacket of a Legionnaire who was playing cribbage downstairs — and his keys were in the front pocket of the gifted coat.
Under the program, recipients can remain anonymous, and the only thing auxiliary volunteers could remember was that the jacket was picked up by family members looking for a winter coat for their son. They had no way of getting in touch with the family to ask for the coat back.
After the story was shared with multiple media outlets, however, the jacket was brought back to the legion hall on Oct. 31, with the keys still tucked safely in the front pocket.
“I was very surprised and jubilant when the guys called me up and said they have my jacket,” said the Legionnaire, who wished to remain anonymous.
The Army Extreme Weather Camouflage jacket was issued to the veteran 20 years ago during his service, and he recalls that it was made from this new material the military wanted to try called Gortex; it was supposed to repel water and cold to a certain extent, and have a smaller signature for radar and night vision reflection.
While the Legionnaire and some of his friends were pretty sure the jacket was forever lost, ladies auxiliary members believed the opposite.
“People are basically honest, and they’ll do the right thing,” said Jessica Feeley, auxiliary member and chair of the Coats for Kids and Families project. She was certain that if the jacket recipient knew of the coat’s accidental gifting, he would return it.
While the camo coat was returned two days after Feeley went to the media to ask for the public’s help, no one knows who is responsible for reuniting the jacket with its rightful owner.
But the Legionnaire wished to extend a big, heartfelt thank you to whoever it is.
“It just goes to show the type of character reflected in the people of The County — honest and good,” he said. “It shows the values the people in The County have compared to the rest of the world; good, home-grown people with moral character.”
The Legionnaire also expressed his thanks to the ladies auxiliary members who pursued the jacket’s return.
“The told me that they would contact [The Aroostook Republican] and the Bangor paper, but I didn’t think that would work. I should have known better because they are the ladies auxiliary of the American Legion, and without them we wouldn’t be where we are today,” the Legionnaire said. “My hat is off to them — their support is astronomical. We cannot say enough good things about the ladies auxiliary.”
While Feeley is appreciative and thankful that the coat was returned, she doesn’t feel as if her job is over.
“I know [the family was] looking for a coat for their son, and I know he needs a coat,” she said.
Feeley, who also is the volunteer manager of the Caribou Ecumenical Food Pantry, is hoping that the family members will read this article and give her a call at the pantry between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday so that she may find a replacement jacket for their son. “If they can tell me what size, and if I have one that size, I’ll be more than happy to get it to them.”
While this year’s coat drive had a little extra excitement to it, the Coats for Families and Kids program continues to prevent hundreds of people from facing winter without appropriate outerwear.
“We’re still having a coat drive next year, and I’ll be out again asking for more coats next September,” Feeley reminded.